Following the flame: Worcester - it's all about the sauce, the porcelain and the fire engine!
24 May 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's history in Worcester centres around the Norwich Union fire engine which operated there until at least 1928. Earliest references to a Norwich Union Fire agency date to 1806 when I V Hall was agent and six years later Norwich Union Life was represented in Worcester by Thomas Henry Wheeler. Mr Wheeler was still agent in 1828 based at 72 High Street and by this date Stokes and Green of Broad Street were agents for West of England.
By 1851 Norwich Union's agents were A P Watkins and Sayce at 50 Foregate Street and the Sayce family remained linked to the company for the next 75 years. By 1876 A B Sayce was captain of the Norwich Union brigade and he was followed by his son T A Sayce, below, who attended the delivery of a new petrol driven fire engine in 1924.
The fire brigade report book, which is in the archive, provides a fascinating insight into the role the brigade played in local life. Its pages contain references to epic battles with fires such as that at Stamford Court near Clifton on Teme in December 1882. The property, owned by Sir Francis Winnington, was insured with North British & Mercantile and the Norwich Union brigade spent 41 hours at the scene. Another fire, at Church Farm Cotheridge also insured with North British & Mercantile, took 21 hours to bring under control.
In Worcester itself the brigade attended a fire at the famous Lea and Perrins Sauce factory on Bank Street in December 1882. The premises were covered by their own policy number 1182198 so they had a vested interest in limiting the damage done. The company also covered the building and contents of the Worcester Royal Porcelain Works on Pheasant Street where they fought a fire in 1892.
Other fires attended include a chimney fire at the Theatre Royal in Angel Street, which was insured by Northern Assurance , and a boiler explosion at the local Lloyds Bank. Chimney and hay rick fires were prevalent and in September 1895 the engine attended a blaze caused by "tramp woman smoking under rick".
The staff magazine from 1896 included this article describing how the brigade fought a fire in Malvern.
I failed to find examples of the "gallant crew" rescuing cats from trees but the book does include references to the brigade in non fire-related situations. In June 1895 two firemen with a manual engine and horse cart attended the local agricultural show and in 1886 they were called to pump away the flood from a burst water main. In what must have been a hot dry summer of 1886 their services were required seven times in July to water the Worcester racecourse, for which they charged £11 6d.
The Worcester brigade was at the cutting edge of fire fighting technology and had the first self-propelled fire engine in England.
Modern methods were not always successful. Entries in the brigade report book for 1901 include remarks such as "Motor Engine used - most unsatisfactory" and in 1905 a new "fire king" motorised engine caused more problems than it solved. On route to its first fire, sparks from the chimney destroyed "the blouse of a lady cyclist and a good portion of hedge".
Undeterred the brigade continued innovating, arriving in record time at one fire in 1911 using a motor cycle and side car.
To show life in Worcester the area didn't only revolve around the fire brigade I'll end with a couple of motor related stories. The first concerns a careful driver, George Preece, of Hereford (through which the Olympic Flame will also pass today). Mr Preece took out a motor policy with Norwich Union in 1920 and after 62 years without a claim was given a nominal renewal premium of just 1p in 1982.
A less fortunate motorist was F J Johnson on the Worcester staff of General Accident. According to the staff magazine of 1965 he "damaged his car and reported shock and bruises to a third party, one Cygnus Olor of no fixed abode". Mr Johnson apparently felt the swan was unlikely to claim damages - especially as it should have been looking where it was flying.